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Focus on Habits Instead of Test Scores

Help your kid develop into a happy, fulfilled person by focusing on social and emotional habits that set them up for success in school and life.

So often, our kids are measured by how they perform on tests and where they rank among their peers in academics and extracurriculars. But learning isn’t confined to lessons taught at school, and a kid’s potential isn’t determined by their batting average or how fast they can play musical scales.

Most parents believe success is defined not by wealth, power, and status, but by whether their kid finds personal happiness, confidence, and purpose. Helping our kids get there means bolstering them, inside and out—mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

Instead of focusing on test scores and rankings, you can help your kid develop into a well-rounded, fulfilled person by focusing on social and emotional mindsets and behaviors that set kids up for success in school and life. These behaviors—the 16 Habits of Success—were defined by educational psychologist Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizard of education research non-profit Turnaround for Children, in her Building Blocks for Learning Framework. In this tip, we’ll focus on the Habits of Success, which along with Universal Skills, set kids up for success in academic and non-academic pursuits.

Framework for the 16 Habits of Success

The Habits of Success are embedded into each of the resources we offer and are a cornerstone of the Prepared philosophy. Here’s how you and your kid can focus on developing them.

As you read through each section below, consider that each level of the framework pyramid builds upon the one before it. Healthy development starts at birth, and as you work your way up the pyramid, higher-order habits are supported by a base competency in those below it. As a parent, you can work on developing any of the skills at any point. Just be aware of how the foundational habits make for easier development of higher-order ones.

“Still, much of this research falls short of suggesting a prescribed sequencing of skills and mindsets,” writes Dr. Stafford-Brizard. In the end, the goal isn’t to learn the Habits of Success in a specific order, but rather to make sure your kid enters adulthood with all of them—alongside the Universal Skills—handy for application in life. Education has to be a partnership between the school and parents.

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“A solid connection between home and school is all about “teach[ing] kids not just what they [need] to get into college, but what they [need] to live a good life.”

-Diane Tavenner
CEO of Summit Public Schools
Author of Prepared

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Healthy development: My basic needs are met

Every kid needs a set of foundational skills that gives them the mental and emotional security to engage and connect with others. These foundational skills are represented on the first row of the Habits of Success framework:

  • Attachment: Having a strong bond with an adult who cares about me
  • Stress management: Figuring out how to become calm and balanced when situations get stressful
  • Self-regulation: Directing and maintaining my attention and emotions

When kids show up to school stressed or emotionally overwhelmed, they’re unable to focus on learning. Healthy development starts with strong parental or caregiver bonds, and is strengthened when our kids learn how to manage stress and emotions, so that they can focus on external goals.

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Academic and life readiness: I’m ready to engage

Being able to set and achieve goals begins with our kids understanding themselves and others, and having the capacity to successfully navigate all kinds of situations that may arise. These social-emotional and cognitive skills are found on the second row of the framework:

  • Self-awareness: Being aware of what I think, feel, do, my strengths and weaknesses, and of the impact I have on other people
  • Empathy/relationship skills: Understanding how others might feel and having the skills to maintain strong relationships with people
  • Executive functions: Concentrating, staying organized, juggling lots of things happening at once, and planning for the future

These are important skills to develop earlier in life, so that higher-order habits can be developed on top of them. When our kids master these academic and life readiness skills, they’re ready to take on all kinds of tasks, from goal-setting to teamwork, with an understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, the emotions and needs of others, and how they can pitch in to contribute to the greater good.

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Positive mindsets: I can do this, and it’s worth it

It’s important that our kids show up to life with a can-do attitude. When our kids feel secure in themselves and their place in their community, they show up willing to put in the work to grow. Seeing the relevance of their education motivates them even further.

Whether they’re perfectionists who strive non-stop to get everything “right,” or they give up too easily, a lot of the stress kids put on themselves is rooted in low self-esteem or negative self-talk. That’s why it’s important for us to help our kids develop and follow the positive mindset habits, found on the third row of the framework:

  • Growth mindset: Believing that I can grow my intelligence; that I’m not just born with a fixed amount 
  • Self-efficacy: Believing that I can do something successfully
  • Sense of belonging: Feeling like I belong in my community—at school and elsewhere 
  • Relevance of education: Believing that education is valuable and the things I learn are interesting

When our kids feel secure in themselves and their place in their community, they show up willing to put in the work to grow. Seeing the relevance of their education motivates them even further.

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Perseverance: I will overcome obstacles and adversity

We all want our kids to find happiness and purpose, even when obstacles and adversity threaten to knock them off course. Three habits that help keep them on track are found on the fourth row of the framework:

  • Resilience: Bouncing back and dealing with challenging or harmful situations 
  • Agency: Making my own decisions and acting on them
  • Academic tenacity: Overcoming distractions and persevering towards longer-term goals

No one achieves their personal best without a little friction, so it’s important for every kid to develop the abilities to stick with it when the going gets tough.

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Independence: I can chart my own course

Finally, at the top of the Habits of Success framework, live the highest-order skills and mindsets:

  • Self-direction: Driving forward the actions needed to achieve goals, with or without help. 
  • Curiosity: Being interested in lots of things and wanting to understand more, even if it is challenging. 
  • Purpose: Charting a course for a life that is meaningful and will have an impact on the world.

These are the habits that eventually turn a kid into an adult. With self-direction, curiosity, and purpose, our kids are able to chart their own course in life, using all of the other Habits of Success to set ambitious goals, overcome obstacles, work on teams to solve big problems, and find meaning in how they contribute to the world around them.